Everybody knows bathrooms offer great sonics for solo singing. The late Chris Whitley's release Weed demonstrates that all it takes to make a great album is a Mini Disk recorder and a friend's lavatory. Recorded in 2003, Weed serves as a combination greatest hits and live performance album (without the distracting screaming adoring masses.)
Including many songs from his debut album such as "Living With the Law," "Big Sky Country," "Weightless," and "Bordertown," Weed showcases a more mature Whitley and his stripped down yet powerful performing chops. It's nearly impossible not to draw parallels with Robert Johnson's first hotel room recordings. Whitley's current rendition of "Big Sky Country" on Weed makes his original recording in 1986 of Living With The Law seem like a cover version by a bubblegum crooner. The power and passion of one man with a guitar easily surpasses the sterile state-of-the-art techniques of most of today's slick soulless recordings.
When I talked with him on the phone, Whitley's PR flack referred to Weed as "lo-fi." I'm afraid he misses the point of Weed. True high fidelity results from getting as close to the original performance as possible. By this yardstick Weed is among the best recordings I've ever heard, far surpassing 99 percent of the audiophile ultra-fi dreck that crosses my desk. The combination of natural bathroom reverb, serendipitous microphone placement, and a simple direct recording technique produces a recording that has stunning immediacy and reality. The absence of limiters, equalizers, gate-array noise reducers and other dynamic inhibitors creates a recording with the unfettered dynamics you find in the real world. On my he-man home theater system this recording comes as close to simulating the actual musical event as any I've ever heard.
When you couple an intense personal performance with a direct and elegant recording method the results can be nothing less than stunning. Weed kills.